Sunday, February 27, 2011

Black Book

Paul Verhoeven, 2006, Holland (8.8*)

Excellent true story of a Jewish double agent, who went so far as to die all her hair blonde so she could literally sleep with the Nazi enemy in World War II Holland. She did this after nearly escaping, only to have Germans kill nearly everyone on aboat while she escapes, and being rescued by the underground. Carice von Houten plays a singer who infiltrates local Gestapo headquarters by seducing officers.

This is a strong storyline, with some excellent war sequences, a modernized version of an early 40's war film. This film was largely ignored in the U.S., grossing just 4m, but has a rating of 8 at IMDB, making it borderline top 250 all-time, and won 11 awards overall, including best film at the Netherlands film festival.

Verhoeven excels at films about WW2 Holland, as his breakthrough international success was Soldier of Orange, which made Rutger Hauer an international star.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

American Beauty

Sam Mendes, 1999 (8.2*)
Best Picture (AA)

For an Oscar®-winning best picture, this is a strange story indeed. First of all, best actor winner, Kevin Spacey, who is bored with real-estate selling wife Annette Bening (who may be having an affair), has a secret crush on his daughter's best friend, a knockout cheerleader played by Mena Suvari [see photo below]

At the same time, he strikes up a friendship with the next door neighbor's teenaged son, which eats at that kid's right wing, homophobic dad, excellently played by Chris Cooper (who would later win his own Oscar® for supporting actor.) This whole story is slightly unsettling, and pretty much R-rated, hence the Oscar® win is a bit surprising; not since Midnight Cowboy has the academy opted for a story of this much squalor and mis-channeled lust. Still, if the story doesn't turn you off, a well filmed cult classic.

Winner of 88 awards overall (one of the highest totals ever), including five Oscars® for picture, director, screenplay, actor, and cinematography. Ranked #39 on the IMDB top 250


Friday, February 25, 2011


Jonathan Glazer, 2004 (8.2*)
One of the more interesting romances in all of film. Nicole Kidman plays a young wife whose husband is out jogging one morning and suffers a sudden fatal heart attack. While still recovering a decade later and with no new love, a young boy comes into her life who knows intimate personal details of her love life, and he claims to be the reincarnation of her dead husband.

This is one of the more compelling and unique mystery films of the decade due to the understated tone maintained throughout the film. The entire story is made credible thanks to an amazing performance by young Cameron Bright as the young Sean. Kidman is excellent as usual, and her penchant for choosing interesting and creative screenplays remains intact here. Lauren Becall, Anne Heche, and Arliss Howard all have small supporting roles.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gone Baby Gone

Ben Affleck, 2007 (8.4*)
Well, he may not be much of an actor, but dang if Ben Affleck didn't turn out to be a pretty good director. This is a mystery thriller in the Hitchcockian film noir tradition, and pretty well directed for a debut effort.

This story is about a missing girl, a lack of progress by law enforcement, and the dogged determination of Ben's private detective brother Casey Affleck, who doesn't really act much (which may be a good thing), stars as a man determined to use detection and knowledge of the streets to find the truth. The pace is pretty well maintained, the cast is competent, not exceptional, but does include Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris.

It's apparent that Ben's talent lies behind the camera, and hopefully he makes more tightly crafted crime mysteries, there are so few that are well done these days. A more recently directed effort is The Town, from 2010, another crime film.
Winner of 19 awards overall..


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Last King of Scotland

Kevin MacDonald, 2006 (8.4*)
Told from the point of view of his personal physician from Scotland, played by James McAvoy, this film offers a biopic of the ruling years of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. The film becomes an acting tour-de-force for star Forrest Whitaker, earning him 28 awards including an Oscar® for his complex and sympathetic portrait of a charismatic madman. The title comes from Amin claiming to be from Scottish ancestry, and royalty at that, so he could have been king of Scotland (!)

The film includes a realistic version of the events leading to terrorists holding hostages at the Entebbe airport, and the subsequent Israeli raid, which features prominently in the physician's story. Whitaker has won awards for other performances, notably in Clint Eastwood's Bird, but he has never has the part to show his acting skills like this one, which allowed him to pretty much dominate the film.

This is a must-see for fans of historical docudramas or great acting performances. The film won 35 awards overall


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Best of Youth

Marco Tullio Giordana, Italy, 2003 (9.0*)
This epic Italian miniseries of four hours, now packaged as a solo feature film, follows two brothers from the time they leave home after high school and go their separate ways up until they are middle-aged. One brother takes a more free-wheeling, soul searching route that takes him to the near wilderness of Norway then back to Italy. The other brother opts for the more fascist tradition, first in the military, later in an urban police force. You might say one is left-wing politically, the other right, or at least they come to represent those two sides of Italian politics at the time the story begins in the 60's.

We see the different characters develop over time, their romances, their career changes, and also how their stories occasionally intersect. This is a well done, complete, and satisfying story that gives justice to the epic story of adult lifetimes.

Winner of 19 awards overall, including Un Certain Regard at Cannes, and numerous Italian film awards (the entire male cast won best actor, and the female cast best actress). It's also now showing up on many all-time top 1000 film lists. It's ranked #700 on our compendium of internet polls.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Capturing the Friedmans

Andrew Jarecki, 2003 (8.2*)
This is an eerie documentary about suspected child molesters, named the Friedmans, a family that ran a daycare center in their home. Director Jarecki looks at the case from all sides and interviews the suspects, but never really makes a judgment himself, he leaves that up to the film audience as if we are members of the jury ourselves. This is a very creepy film about a very sensitive subject, so it definitely won't be for all audiences, but it is a riveting documentary and one well worth seeing.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

I Served the King of England

Jirí Menzell, Czech Republic, 2006 (8.5*)
Czech Lion, Best Picture
From the director of Closely Watched Trains (1966), this is one of the more unusual comedies you'll ever see (from a novel by Bohumi Hraba). It covers about half a century in the life of a waiter, who starts out small, saves his tips, and gradually works his way up in status and in the class of his employers. It seems that everything this waiter did grew his financial assets; he often pulls out his money and spreads it across the floor, which allows us to track his financial progress.

This entire story is told in flashback from a present when he is moving into an abandoned home near the border in his late middle ages, fifty-something. Because of the length of this story, two actors play the main character, but the funniest is Ivan Barnev, when he was a young man and his life-shaping incidents occur.

For this actor, eventually the world interrupts his private and romantic dreams, and the 2nd world war threatens his stability. Fortunately, his girlfriend has some savvy plans for survival.

This won 8 awards internationally, including four Czech Lions, one for best picture

[This is our film review #667, so we are 2/3 of the way to 1000]


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Kids Are All Right

Lisa Cholodenko, 2010 (8.0*)
Best Musical or Comedy Film (GG)
So what's the deal with Julianne Moore and all the lesbian parts recently? ("not that there's anything wrong with that" - Seinfeld) She was naked and almost x-rated in Chloe, doing the naked girl-on-girl thing with doe-eyed Amanda Seyfried. Now, in Kids, she's the lesbian marriage partner of Annette Bening, and of course there's the obligatory makeout and simulated sex scenes.

Annette Bening steals this movie, and an Oscar® nomination for lead actress, in one of her best performances; she's the only one that doesn't seem to be acting, she's very natural. The others are just passable, including Oscar-nominee Mark Ruffalo (should be supporting not lead actor) as the sperm-donor dad for each of the women's children, one girl of 18 about to go off to college, and a son of 15, who wants to find his real genetic father.

What begins as an innocent tale of self-discovery gets serious when Moore and Ruffalo begin a lust-driven sexual affair. This sounds terrible, and is perhaps a little manipulative, but is really fairly engrossing thanks to the screenplay, the ensemble cast, and a terrific 'ready for cd' music soundtrack, with some unusual and surprisingly effective rock music.

Nominated for best picture of 2010, it's won just 3 awards out of 55 nominations so far, a couple were Golden Globes for best musical or comedy, and best actress in a comedy for Bening.

[Note: this was our 666th film review; I was gonna save it for 669, but figured no one would get it..]


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Toy Story 3

Lee Unkrich, 2010 (9.0*)Another winner in the ongoing series, this one's about when the kid, Andy, is finally old enough to go off to college, and what happens to the childhood collection of stuff in the room that is now being passed on to a younger sibling. We've all been through this at some point, losing countless millions in old baseball cards and Beatles memorabilia tossed out by moms (these two from personal experience!)

Along with all the other belongings are the child's favorite toys - in this case, Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), the dinosaur, Hamm the pig (John Ratzenburger), Jessie the cowgirl (Joan Cusack), the potato heads, and all the other toys from the first two films. The mom is pressuring all the kids to come up with toys to throw out, toys for the attic, and toys to be donated to a day care center. Of course, Andy's (John Morris) toys get mixed up with trash, and then end up at the daycare center, with hilarious results.

They've kept the story energized with some funny twists. My favorite is that Buzz Lightyear has a Spanish mode and when he is accidentally switched to Spanish we read his dialogue in subtitles, and he flits around like a flamenco dancer, so along with language his personality changes to a Spanish one.

This is another tear-jerking, crowd pleaser from Pixar, but it maintains the level of the first two, and forms a perfect complement for the trilogy. Winner of 19 awards so far, out of 41 nominations, and up for five upcoming Oscars® including best picture. #29 on the IMDB top 250.

Our review of the original Toy Story, from 1993, and it's sequel


Monday, February 14, 2011

The Muse

The Muse, Albert Brooks, 1999 (8.1*)
[Happy Valentine's Day]
Who do all the Hollywood movers go to when suffering creative blocks? Why, The Muse, of course - in this film she's played by Sharon Stone. The Greek muse, the daughter of Zeus, gave us the words music and amuse, supposedly inspiring all of the arts. What the filmmakers get from Stone is usually exact advice that will help them move forward and create great cinematic art.

Writer-director Albert Brooks plays a screenwriter with a block, so he needs whatever the muse can offer him. He is told he must give the muse a good gift, so he goes to Tiffany's (but gets their smallest gift, which gets tossed onto a pile of presents by Stone), while wife Andie MacDowell is not sure he's not having an affair, and doesn't quite understand the relationship - how does one explain a personal muse to a jealous wife?

Adding to the hilarity of this situation are the cameos from the truly talented; when Brooks first goes to Stone's cottage, Martin Scorsese is just leaving. Apparently even those of genius status in Hollywood seek out the muse in times of creative doubt. Cybill Shepherd, Jennifer Tilly, and Lorenzo Lamas all play themselves.

There's nothing cerebral here, just another entertaining comedy from Brooks, whose own peculiar brand of low-key comedy may not be for all tastes, but is a welcome relief from all the sophmoric boozing comedies being released nowdays.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Informer

John Ford, 1935, bw (8.8*)
Possibly the best John Ford film, this one is not a western but a political film in which Victor McLaglen plays an alcoholic member of the IRA in the 20's, in an Oscar®-winning performance for best actor (the best of his long career), who can't decide if he's fighting a revolution or looking for his next drink. Intelligence personnel know his weakness for alcohol and he becomes a target of those seeking information for the British side.

Winner of four Oscars, for best actor, director, music score, and screenplay - it lost best picture to Mutiny on the Bounty. This is still a riveting, politically-charged story 75 years later.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Wings of the Dove

Ian Softley, 1997 (8.6*)
Helena Bonham Carter
's most riveting and intense performance, an Oscar®-nominated one for best actress, highlights this Victorian tale, from the novel by Henry James, of two poor British lovers and how they attach themselves as best friends to a dying heiress in a scheme to perhaps inherit some money.

Carter plays a conniving woman, Kate Croy, who is being asked to give up her muck-raking journalist fiance (Linus Roache) in order to maintain her lifestyle. She befriends a traveling heiress, played by Alison Elliott, who turns out to be dying. The heiress shows some interest in Kate's fiance, so Kate hatches a scheme to have him court the dying woman with the hopes of gaining financially.

Emotions, however, are not easy to plan or control, and not all goes according to plan. Carter becomes one of the screen's more lovable villainesses, nearly up there with Glen Close in Dangerious Liaisons. Even though this is not a very pleasant romance, it's an incisive and intense one. Helena Bonham Carter turned in her best performance here, and in an interview before the Oscars said "it was my first nude bonk scene - can I say bonk on tv?"

Winner of 16 awards out of 37 nominations. Carter won 13 for her performance, while Alison Elliott won 2 for supporting actress.


Friday, February 11, 2011

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

Vittorio De Sica, Italy, 1970 (8.4*)
Best Foreign Film (AA)
The Finzi-Continis are a family of wealthy, aristocratic Jews living in Italy during the 1920's. They routinely open up their spacious gardens to the public so everyone can enjoy nature's beauty. Part of that beauty is Dominique Sanda, who is exquisite as Micol, who seems to enjoy toying with the emotions of her suitors between rounds of tennis and parties. The tranquility of the garden and serenity of the estate isolate the family from the growing current of fascism that will lead to the war and the holocaust.

De Sica, unlike his early films, fills Garden with lush, romantic images, in a kind of hazy, painterly color palette, almost as if seeing a film of a dream of an idyllic lifestyle that only exists briefly, if at all. Though it does not rank with De Sica's best (The Bicycle Thief, Umberto D.), it's still another classic Italian film, and well worth seeing for its own merits.

Winner of eight awards overall, including the Oscar® for foreign language film


Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Mosquito Coast

Peter Weir, 1986 (8.2*)
Harrison Ford is an American inventor who has finally had it with civilization and all its debris. Against the wish of wife Helen Mirren, he decides to move his entire family to the jungles of Belize in Central America, and establish a family farm commune there that he hopes will become self-sustaining. His lifetime dream is to bring ice cream to primitives in the jungle.

There he finds a new chance but once again religion in the form of a fundamentalist missionary with his own brand of God's wrath crosses his path and becomes a metaphor for facing spiritual issues head on. This is another of master director Peter Weir's good films; nearly all of his are worth viewing and this is no exception, as it concerns man's basic instinct for survival vs. personal ideals.

Look for Butterfly McQueen from Gone With the Wind and her squeaky voice as a follower of the primitive missionary in a religious commune, in one of her last roles. The late River Phoenix plays one of Ford's kids.

Quote: Are we still going upriver?
Quote 2: Man's biggest mistake - walking upright and exposing all his vital organs.


The Red Shoes

Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, 1948 (8.3*)
One of the most beautifully shot films to have come from the Powell and Pressburger collaberation, known as "The Archers".

Moira Shearer plays a new ballet discovery whose life begins to eerily parallel one of her characters, whose dancing is enhanced by a pair of magical red shoes. She is soon torn between the love of her life and her love of dancing. Still one of the best films ever about dancing itself, this film has never become dated due to the artistry of Powell.

Director Michael Powell was an early technicolor specialist in the 30's before becoming a director and it shows in his films such as this one and Black Narcissus. Together, he and Pressburger usually shared directing credit, though it's understood that Pressburger was normally the screenwriter and Powell the director. This was recently voted #5 in a poll of all-time U.K. films by a panel of film pros there. In fact, Michael Powell had six films in the top 30. (which include Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death, Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and A Canterbury Tale)


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Last Seduction

John Dahl, 1993 (8.5*)
Excellent crime story, a modern noir in which a wife from hell steals a lot of drug money from her husband and leaves him a cryptic note (she can write backwards and upside-down both!) that basically says 'adios' and she leaves town. When she stops driving, she immediately hooks up with a new lover who's just hanging out in a bar she visits, and sweeps him into her web of deceit and intrigue. Meanwhile, the husband is not only angry, but is not giving up easily, hiring detectives and joining the chase for his money.

Linda Fiorintino became an overnight sensation for her sly, subtle, seductive performance as the wife, in a performance that pre-dates Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. In spite of her lack of ethics, you have to admire her gutsy, sophisticated manner. In many ways she's reminiscent of young Lauren Becall in To Have and Have Not. Definitely R rated for some pretty adventurous sex scenes, especially one outside on a chain-link fence. This film is a throwback to the great film noir of the 40's.


In the Heat of the Night

Norman Jewison, 1967 (8.4*)
Best Picture (AA)

Though a little dated looking now, when this was released in the 60's the country was involved in race riots, student anti-war demonstrations, and there were many in the country fighting hard against racial prejudice in the courts and in the streets. So this film that deals with racial prejudice in a small Mississippi town was a timely political statement that was rewarded with the Oscar® for best picture, best director for Jewison, and Rod Steiger for best actor as a beer-bellied gum-smacking redneck sheriff.

The story is actually a homicide mystery. Sidney Poitier is a police detective from Philadelphia ("they call me Mister Tibbs!") who happens to be waiting at the train station when a body is found murdered in a small Mississippi town, so he is picked up as a usual racially-motivated suspect. When it turns out that he's a police detective with far more homicide experience than the law enforcement in this sleepy burg, he decides to lend his expertise so no other innocent people get swept up by this over-zealous and extremely reactive sheriff, who has little knowledge of forensic science.

At the time there was buzz about Poitier's character slapping a white man back who slaps him first; nowdays it just seems like a natural response. Also, Steiger's performance now seems more like a caricature than subtle acting warranting an Oscar, while Poitier's performance was actually the more artful one in the film. Still, the story works as a police procedural and mystery if you can get around all the more than obvious political statements and stereotyping about racism in the south.

The film won 17 awards overall, including five Oscars


Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Samual Maoz, Israel, 2009 (8.6*)
Golden Lion Award, Venice
Riveting war film follows an Israeli tank that is lost inside Lebanon and separated from the rest of its division during their first war in the early 80's. It's been described as the 'Das Boot' of tank films but it's a lot shorter at around only 100 minutes, and also lacks the epic scope of that submarine film.

It is however, eerily realistic for the trapped and claustrophobic environment of a tank crew lost and without support inside a hostile country, when you don't get out of the tank for any reason, nor do you sit still in any location for very long. The only view of the outside is through circular viewscopes, all attached to guns, so the only thing that can be seen is what you're aiming at, there is no peripheral or panoramic view available.

They're not entirely alone as they are joined for awhile by an infantry squad, but there is obvious friction between those inside and outside the tank, and those inside don't always trust decisions made on the outside, which adds to the helpless feeling of being trapped in the tank.

This film belongs in all lists of must-see war films as it presents a unique view of modern war, and also covers an aspect of a war rarely covered by any films. Winner of 10 awards overall, most for its excellent cinematography


The Shop On Main St.

Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos, 1965, Czechoslovakia, bw (9.0*)
Best Foreign Film (AA)
A terrific film on a little known subject, the 'Aryanization' of Jewish businesses in Europe, in which the Nazis sent in those of pure, Aryan race to basically take over Jewish businesses when Jews were banned from owning or operating any. This story takes place in occupied Czechoslavakia, when an Aryan male is sent to run a tiny button shop on Main St. in a small Czech village.

Ida Kaminska plays the shopkeeper, in a performance that garnered an Oscar® nomination for lead actress; it's one of the more believable in Oscar® history as she's so wonderfully understated that you never suspect she's acting. Jozef Króner is the man (Tono) sent to take over her shop, and he's in for a real education, as he discovers a huge Jewish support network that actually pays salary to small shopkeepers who would be out of business otherwise.

This is an eye-opening story that looks at anti-Semitism literally at street level, how it affects the daily lives of small villagers. It's an important film in the pantheon of holocaust films, and one of the best films to ever come out of the Czech Republic. The film won four awards for foreign language film, including the Oscar® in 1966.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Pride and Prejudice

Joe Wright, 2005 (8.2*)
Fairly realistic and enjoyable update of the Jane Austen romance classic, is now the preferred short film version thanks to an Oscar®-nominated performance by Keira Knightly.

The novel is more about the Bennett sisters as a group, but the story of this version in narrowed more to the two central characters, Elizabeth Bennett (Knightly), who meets aristocratic and proud Mr. Darcy, who is all too aware of their difference in class status, making romance difficult and a social hurdle. The two seem more often at odds than in agreement.

This version concentrates more on the serious romance, and less on Austen's innate humor which is prevalent in nearly all of her novels. Director Joe Wright opted to look more at class prejudice and also that against women in careers at a time when most were dependent on making a good marriage match in order to succeed in life.

This is a good intro to Austen for initiates. Part of a wave of Austen updated remakes, the best of which is probably Ang Lee's Oscar®-winning Sense and Sensibility., which won an AA for star Emma Thompson's screenplay. The BBC has made mini-series versions of nearly all Austen novels in the last decade, most are at least four hours in length and are thus more faithful to the books.

Pride did receive 10 awards, most for newcomer director Wright, who later again teamed with Keira Knightly for Atonement, winner of 23 awards.


Animal Kingdom

David Michôd, Australia, 2010 (8.8*)
Sundance, Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema
Powerful story of a crime family in Melbourne, Australia is director David Michôd's first film. The incredibly complex script with terrific dialogue was re-written several times by Michod over a six year period before filming, and it shows.

The story involves J, a teenager played by newcomer James Frecheville just out of high school, whose mom overdoses in the first scene. With no alternatives, he goes to live with grandma Jacki Weaver, who turns in a mind-blowing performance. She is basically the leader of an organized gang of her four sons that does armed robberies, all uncles of J's and unsure how much to let him know.

What follows is J's introduction to the family trade, and their running battle with the Armed Robbery Squad of the city police, which is now operating beyond the law and performing their own hits on suspects without bothering for arrests. This is a chilling story reminiscent of L.A. Confidential, but a bit more realistic, being placed in an unspecified 80's time period, a time when Machod had moved to Melbourne and "was reading lots of true crime articles" which inspired this story (in an interview on the dvd). Veteran actor Guy Pearce (Memento, The Proposition, L.A. Confidential) plays a smooth police detective building evidence against the brothers, who thinks J may give up some information if bothered enough.

Jacki Weaver has 12 nominations for either lead or supporting actress so far for her incredible performance as the mother from hell, who supports her boys' life of crime, yet who is still loving and likeable. I hope she wins the Oscar® for supporting actress, she's simply unforgettable, and has likely turned in the performance of her long career. The film has already won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for World Cinema.
Check out all hers and the film's nominations here


Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Seven Year Itch

Billy Wilder, 1955 (8.2*)
When the wife's away, will swinging cats play? That's basically the premise of this Billy Wilder screwball comedy, in which a temporarily stag husband, Tom Ewell in his best performance (a Golden Globe winner for best actor), whose wife and kids are away all summer on vacation, is tempted by the close proximity of blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe, who becomes his platonic pal.

Ewell has a constant pained look on his face (and we guys know where that comes from), while Monroe plays the innocent virginal girl to the hilt. The most famous scene is when she stands above a subway air vent and lets the warm air blow up her dress and blast her 'nether regions', a scene often copied in later films.

There's not much to think about here, as Wilder has given us the cinematic equivalent of repressed sexual frustration, and lets our fantasies do all the work. Maybe not his best comedy, but like any Wilder film, not only worth seeing but a level above all the others of his generation. One of Monroe's best, as she works as a parody of herself, a woman who's almost too hot to touch while seemingly begging to be ravaged by someone.

Wilder is one of the great directors, here's a small list of his best films:
The Front Page, Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Lost Weekend, The Spirit of St. Louis, One Two Three, Ace in the Hole, Sabrina, The Apartment, Some Like It Hot, Witness For the Prosecution, The Fortune Cookie.


Saturday, February 5, 2011


Barry Levinson, 1982 (8.5*)
One of the few all-dialogue films that actually works, thanks to a sparkling comedy script and an excellent ensemble cast. Many stars of this film made their breakthroughs here, such as Paul Reiser, Mickey Rourke, and Steve Guttenberg. The cast also includes Kevin Bacon, Tim Daly and Daniel Stern (City Slickers, Breaking Away).

This is obviously an homage (and update) to George Cukor's famous 1939 comedy, The Women, in which women at a dude ranch out west discuss their marital and romantic problems for the entire film. Some claim, in a stretch, that it's a remake of American Graffiti. ["whatever.."] The guys here all meet in the same local diner every day to escape the rest of their shallow lives, and the viewer learns about them through their conversations.

In a very funny running gag, one of the dudes is training his fiance for a football test she must pass or the wedding is off, and we never see the woman's face, we only hear her voice as she answers some very esoteric football trivia, as this is an all male film that takes place in the male-dominant 50's.

Note: other all-talking films that work include The Big Chill (1983, Kasdan), Metropolitan (1990, Stillman), My Dinner With Andre (Malle), 12 Angry Men (Lumet's first), and The Breakfast Club (Hughes). Director Barry Levinson, of course, went on to make the popular and Oscar®-winning Forest Gump.


Friday, February 4, 2011


John Schlesinger, 1965, bw (8.2*)
Julie Christie burst into stardom, and won an Oscar® for best actress in this John Schlesinger romance about a beautiful model with less morals than connections. The story is nothing extra or unusual, but Christie's performance makes this film. She manages to be both attractive and emotionally repelling at the same time, free and uninhibited, yet also impermanent and frightening.

The two men she primarily juggles in this soapy story are Dirk Bogarde, who is married with children, and Laurence Harvey. Ironically, later in the same year, she would do the same with Omar Sharif, Tom Courtenay, and Rod Steiger in Doctor Zhivago. It's not hard for the public to buy the premise that Christie would have suitors lined up for the slaughter.

Schlesinger would later direct Oscar® winning best picture Midnight Cowboy, in 1968.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Il Posto

Ermanno Olmi, 1961, Italy, bw (8.4*)
This is one of the most amazing films I've ever seen. A kid goes into post-war Milan to get a job at a major company, and we follow him from home to the interview, which also involves some simple tests. While there he meets an attractive girl also on a job search. The two flirt through with minor chit-chat, but they don't know if they'll see each other again if either is not hired.

The only drama in the film comes from them getting hired or not. This is Italian neo-realism at its most realistic. Director Olmi not only makes this work, thanks to all amateur actors, but with a great director's touch actually keeps us riveted on the mundane as if life itself was about to break out. This is on many all-time top 1000 film polls.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mary Poppins

Robert Stevenson, 1964 (8.1*)
This film was a lot of family-oriented fun, with nonsense songs and fantastic happenings, all after a magical nanny shows up in the form of Mary Poppins (who floats in using an umbrella), played with energetic gusto by Julie Andrews in a star-making and Oscar®-winning performance. Dick Van Dyke co-stars as a lower-class chimney sweep, who also has a bit of magic and music in his veins. Don't look to deep into this one, but expect lots of family-style Disney entertainment, with some magical animation overlaid over live action, a la Song of the South.

There was more than a little irony on Oscar® night when Andrews won for actress and Rex Harrison won for actor in My Fair Lady, since the two made the London play a hit yet Andrews was snubbed for the film in lieu of big box office draw Audrey Hepburn, whose vocals were dubbed by off-camera specialist Marnie Nixon, who also dubbed vocals for The King and I and West Side Story. (Nixon finally got in front of the camera in The Sound of Music, singing "A Problem Like Maria".) It's a shame that audiences were robbed of Andrews brilliant interpretation of Eliza Doolittle, as she is British while Hepburn is American, and Andrews made the role famous to begin with; the original cast recording will bear out my argument. In the history of major cinema, this remains one of the major casting gaffs ever committed. One can only assume that the Oscar® for Poppins was the consolation prize for the snub of Andrews for the bigger film, which won best picture and seven Oscars® overall.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Woody Allen, 1990 (8.6*)
Unhappy in her marriage, wife Mia Farrow develops an incurable backache. After traditional healthcare fails to help, out of desperation she visits a Chinese herbal healer on the advice of a friend.

She gets far more than she bargains for; the Chinese shaman gives her various herbs (one each visit) that each seem to have magical properties, such as making her invisible or making anyone who drinks a tea she prepares fall in love with her. Of course, in the hands of Woody, the ramifications are hilarious, as he uses the magic to uncover more of the mundane, such as being invisible allows her to uncover her husband's infidelities by eavesdropping unseen on her friends.

Joseph Montegna becomes her new suitor after she meets him at their kids' private school, and her partner in magic, and the two have a nice comedic chemistry together. This is one of the more imaginative of Allen's romantic comedies, even though lighter than some (Hannah and Her Sisters, Annie Hall), it all works beautifully. It's also another worthy late member of his "New York Romance" series.


Swing Time

George Stevens, 1936, bw (8.2*)
One of the best of the nearly interchangeable Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals. This one stands out due to some very innovative musical numbers, especially Astaire's tribute in blackface to legendary tap dancer William "Bojangles" Robinson, in which dramatic lighting (or special effects) has Astaire dancing with 3 giant shadows of himself.

In this thin plot, he's trying to get enough money together to marry his fiance, but of course, Ginger Rogers intervenes as usual. Other than The Gay Divorcee, the plots of these musicals are forgettable. Each runs something like this: a musical performer, usually Astaire, who is usually betrothed to some high society girl he actually despises, meets Ginger Rogers, who is either a dance instructor or an out of work chorus girl or singer; right way they dance like seasoned pros together, fall in love, and once Fred is out of his current relationship, he and Ginger happily dance off together into the closing credits. [Astaire later admitted that his favorite dance partner was actually Rita Hayworth.]

The Gay Divorcee had the most original and comedic plot, as Rogers hired a professional corespondent (named Tonetti) to get out of a divorce, meets Astaire, who becomes the new and real reason for a divorce. What may set any of the others apart is the quality and originality of the dance numbers, which is the achievement of Swing Time, not to mention that this one has master director George Stevens (Shane, Giant, Suddenly Last Summer) at the helm.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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